Connie and Carla
Directed by Michael Lembeck. Starring Nia Vardalos, Toni Collette, Stephen Spinella, Dash Mihok, David Duchovny, Alec Mapa. (2004, PG-13, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 23, 2004
It takes a certain ballsiness to remake (however loosely) Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s Some Like It Hot, a film regularly cited as the greatest comedy of all time. Writer-star Nia Vardalos gets points for ambition, but, as with her first film, the ridiculously popular My Big Fat Greek Wedding, her comic touch registers more tepid than hot. Vardalos plays Connie, one-half of a limping lounge-singing duo; the second set of pipes are provided by her best friend, the lovable dingbat Carla (Collette). After another lackluster gig (at an O’Hare bar, no less), the pair witness a murder in an airport parking garage. With the killers hot on their trail, Connie and Carla flee to West Hollywood and go incognito as a drag-queen act that specializes in tongue-in-cheek show tunes ("I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair," for example). The film relies heavily on their stage performances – well-sung and well-staged, all of them – and the always-game Australian actress Toni Collette fully immerses herself in the role of a woman playing a man playing a woman. She – and this is meant entirely as a compliment – makes a smashing drag queen. Vardalos, however, never really commits to the role; her drag face and fashion sense could just as easily be confused for Jersey mallrat, and her biggest contribution to the role is dropping her voice to a husky, Beavis (or is it Butt-head?) "huh-huh." Vardalos gives herself the Tony Curtis subplot of falling for a guy (Duchovny) who wants to fall back, were she not (supposedly) a guy, too, but all the snap and subversiveness of the original subplot is lost here. Vardalos never scratches below the surface of stereotypical drag-queen gags, and the "real" drags (including renowned stage actor Stephen Spinella) play like a greatest hits’ reel of pop culture’s cuddly gay man. Although the transvestites’ plight – mishandled, misunderstood, and/or misappropriated – is meant to supply Connie and Carla’s emotional core, one never gets the feeling of anything stronger than an at-shoulder-length’s sympathy from this film. As with My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Vardalos turns her eye on a community for the effect of a soft, faintly exploitative humor, but not an empathetic one.